Monday, 11 December 2017

Strong revival, balanced cast: Cav & Pag returns to Covent Garden

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Martina Belli, Bryan Hymel - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Martina Belli, Bryan Hymel - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo Pagliacci; Bryan Hymel, Elina Garanca, Carmen Giannattasio, Mark S Doss, Simon Keenlyside, dir: Damiano Michieletto / Rodula Gaitanou, cond: Daniel Oren
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 9 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A powerful revival of this Italian neo-realist production, with a pair of striking casts

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Simon Keenlyside - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Simon Keenlyside
Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Damiano Michieletto's Italian neo-realist production of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (new in 2015, see my review) has returned to Covent Garden, revived by Rodula Gaitanou with a substantially new cast (seen 9 December 2017). In fact there were more cast changes than planned as Bryan Hymel, the scheduled Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, also sang Canio in Pagliacii after the scheduled Canio, Fabio Sartori, pulled out.

The rest of the casting was equally as full of interest. In Cavalleria Rusticana, Elina Garanca was Santuzza with Mark S Doss as Alfio, Martina Belli as Lola and Elena Zilio as Mamma Lucia. In Pagliacci, Simon Keenlyside was Tonio, Carmen Giannattasio as Nedda, Luis Gomes as Beppe and Andrzej Filonczyk as Silvio. Daniel Oren conducted.

Returning to Michieletto's prodction I found that the way he intertwined the two operas (the cast of one appearing in the other) bothered me less. Cavalleria Rusticana has stood up well and is a powerful account of this opera, whereas the music of Pagliacci notably the harlequinade, which Michieletto uses as a dream/nightmare sequence for Canio, does not quite have the psychological depth which Michieletto places on it. But the plot of Pagliacci, with its travelling players and commedia dell'arte performance, is difficult to bring off in any setting but the period one.


Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Elina Garanca, Bryan Hymel, Martina Belli - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Elina Garanca, Bryan Hymel, Martina Belli
Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
In both operas there seemed to be aspects of the performance which I did not remember, perhaps Rodula Gaitanou re-thought some details, or simply a revival director and new cast shed new light on the production.

Elina Garanca made a powerful Santuzza, the role seemed to suit her mezzo-soprano voice well with only a slight fuzziness at the top. Her performance was notable for the classicism and sculptural quality she brought to the music. There was a dignity to Santuzza's desperation and, rather than having incandescent moments, there was a sustained intensity to Garanca's performance. Bryan Hymel made a powerful Turiddu, and the duet between Garanca and Hymel was the strong centrepiece of the whole performance. He brought out the careless indifference of the character, someone who lived in the moment.

Mark S. Doss was a very physical presence as Alfio, though his voice seemed to not be ideally relaxed and his demeanour rather stiff, though perhaps that was the idea. Certainly the pairing of this Alfio and Martina Belli's sultry, sexy Lola seemed highly unlikely to succeed. Elena Zilio repeated her moving and vividly sung Mamma Lucia.

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Bryan Hymel, Carmen Giannattasio - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Bryan Hymel, Carmen Giannattasio
Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
In Pagliacci, Bryan Hymel's tireless singing of Canio gave no hint that he had already sung Turiddu. His voice has quite a lithe, narrow focus, giving the line a wiry strength though perhaps lacking the openness at the top which is ideal in this role. He gave a carefully studied and strongly delineated account of Canio's descent into jealously and madness. Not the most visceral performances of the role, this was still deeply felt and intelligently sung. 'Vesti la giubba' was intensely moving and the final scene suitably disturbing.

Simon Keenlyside does not have a conventionally heroic baritone for Tonio, but he brought a litheness and dark power to the line and a supreme intelligence. His opening prologue was gripping, full of telling vocal and physical details, in fact Keenlyside's whole performance was a very physical one. As the plot progressed, Keenlyside elicited perhaps more sympathy than some purely evil depictions, and his finally words had an element of sadness to it.

Carmen Giannattasio, returning as Nedda, did not sing her aria outside so the birds were in her imagination, and whilst Giannattasio sang with lyric grace, she also brought darker undertones to the role, and her duet with Andrzej Filonczyk's besotted Silvio had a poignant intensity to it. Luis Gomes made a lyrical Beppe, singing his serenade with finesse, yet an onlooker to the terrible proceedings which unfolded.

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci- Bryan Hymel - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci- Bryan Hymel - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Daniel Oren conducted with efficiency, barring a few moments of uncertainty between stage and pit. Though there were dramatically impulsive moments, overall I felt he tended to linger over attractive details, but he drew strong ensemble performances from his cast. On paper the cast seemed to fall into the interesting category, rather than traditional, yet all shed illuminated their roles and the whole grew together into a vibrant whole, definitely a memorable evening.


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